Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: Dry Lake Hills to Flagstaff (Passage 33, Flagstaff)

In the land of Arizona
Through desert heat or snow
Winds a trail for folks to follow
From Utah to Old Mexico

It’s the Arizona Trail
A pathway through the great Southwest
A diverse track through wood and stone
Your spirit it will test

Oh, sure you’ll sweat and blister
You’ll feel the miles every day
You’ll shiver at the loneliness
Your feet and seat will pay

But you’ll see moonlight on the borderlands
You’ll see stars on the Mogollon
You’ll feel the warmth of winter sun
And be thrilled straight through to bone

The aches and pains will fade away
You’ll feel renewed and whole
You’ll never be the same again
With Arizona in your soul

Along the Arizona Trail
A reverence and peace you’ll know
Through deserts, canyons, and mountains
From Utah to Old Mexico

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

Welcome back to Aspen’s Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail from Utah to Mexico. I want to note that this hike was completed before the coronavirus pandemic arrived, but it has left me with quite a bit of time in quarantine to write up my experiences on the trail.

Hiking south, the trail crosses to the flanks of Elden Mountain and continues to drop down toward Flagstaff. It crosses the Coconino National Forest border onto McMillan Mesa and into Buffalo Park, managed by Flagstaff. A wide rice grass meadow composes much of the park, crisscrossed with wide trails and paths providing magnificent views of the San Francisco Peaks, Elden Mountain and the Dry Lake Hills. Just magnificent, especially seen now in the late afternoon. Near the entrance to the park, there’s a memorial bench and plaque to Dale Shewalter, a Flagstaff teacher who became known as the “Father of the Arizona Trail.” Hiking across McMillan Mesa and exiting Buffalo Park, the trail climbs onto Switzer Mesa and wraps through the Flagstaff Urban Trail System along the Ponderosa Parkway to Route 66. I make a pit stop at Dark Sky Brewing, where I meet a fellow Vermont alum! Always fun to run into a fellow Catamount. I must have made quite the impression walking in with my backpack after a week or so in the wilderness since leaving Grand Canyon. Then it’s on with another friend to a local Mexican restaurant for a full dinner.

Flagstaff, Arizona’s incredible mountain town, at last. As a bonus, my boots did not totally disintegrate getting here, but replacing them for the trek south is now on the list for the next few days, which will take stock of the logistics to get from here to Mormon Lake and Pine.

The Arizona Trail passes through stands of gambel oak hiking through the Dry Lake Hills below Elden Mountain
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks seen backpacking along the Arizona Trail, Dry Lake Hills
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine among rock outcrops, seen hiking on the Arizona Trail in the Dry Lake Hills
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Elden Mountain rises above gambel oaks and ponderosa pine, seen backpacking on the Arizona Trail in the Dry Lake Hills
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine, backpacking on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine, hiking on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine, backpacking on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine, hiking on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
Gambel oaks and ponderosa pine, backpacking on the Arizona Trail on Elden Mountain
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Coconino National Forest
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Elden Mountain, seen from hiking the Arizona Trail in Buffalo Park, Flagstaff (Passage 33, Flagstaff). Fire impacts visible on the south (right) side of the mountain, a lingering reminder of the 1977 Radio Fire.
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Dry Lake Hills and San Francisco Peaks from backpacking the Arizona Trail in Buffalo Park, Flagstaff
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Panorama of the San Francisco Peaks & Dry Lake Hills (left) and Elden Mountain (right), seen from hiking the Arizona Trail in Buffalo Park, Flagstaff
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Dry Lake Hills and San Francisco Peaks from backpacking the Arizona Trail in Buffalo Park, Flagstaff
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Panorama of the San Francisco Peaks & Dry Lake Hills (left) and Elden Mountain (right), seen from hiking the Arizona Trail on Switzerland Mesa, Flagstaff
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
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Elden Mountain (right) and cinder cones of the San Francisco Volcanic Field (center) with fire smoke, as viewed from hiking the Arizona Trail on Switzer Mesa, Flagstaff
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Elden Mountain (right) and cinder cones of the San Francisco Volcanic Field (center) with fire smoke, as viewed from backpacking the Arizona Trail on Switzer Mesa
AZT Passage 33 (Flagstaff)

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To Thruhike or Section Hike, That is the Question

When many individuals are first looking at getting into thruhiking, they face one crucial decision after trail selection – to section hike, or thruhike. Each has different advantages and challenges, and may be better suited for one trail than another. Today, we’re going to discuss these. First, we need to define each. For our purposes, … Continue reading To Thruhike or Section Hike, That is the Question

National Park Quest: Tonto National Monument

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Inspiration Point to Roosevelt Cemetery (Passages 20 & 19, Four Peaks to Superstition Mountains)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

Arizona Trail Backpacking Logistics – AZT Gateway Communities: Tonto Basin

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Four Peaks South (Passage 20)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Four Peaks North (Passage 20)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Four Peaks Passage to just south of Pigeon Spring. The terrain is incredibly precipitous – in places the trail seems to occupy the only level ground around. Fire impacts are present throughout as well, a legacy of the 1996 Lone Fire. Magnificent views of Roosevelt Lake, the southern Mazatzal foothills, and the Sierra Ancha across Tonto Basin.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Passage 33 (Flagstaff)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)15.5
SeasonApril-October. Snow can be significant in winter.
Potential Water SourcesN/A
TrailheadsNorth: Schultz Pass
South: Fisher Point
Trailhead AccessNorth: Grade dirt/gravel road
South: Foot/bike access
WildernessNo
Possible resupply pointsFlagstaff
ATA-Rated DifficultyModerate (south end is easier)
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)N/A
Ecosystems TraversedRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Sites of InterestHistoric Flagstaff
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Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Woodland
Common Trees/Shrubs* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir
* White fir
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries



Common herbaceous plants* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Passage 31 & 33 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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